In The Book of Esther, Emily Barton delivers an imaginative blend of alternative history, steampunk, and feminism. The story takes place in Khazaria, where a Jewish refugees have fled from oppression in Germania. The main character, Esther, is a courageous girl who, like the Esther of the Old Testament, makes a bold decision to fight for her people. Accompanied by a mechanical horse named Seleme and a young slave, she searches for a kabbalistic village in hopes that the residents will turn her into a man.
Elements of magical realism appear in the story. Esther is not transformed into a man, but an army of golems, which are mythical creatures formed by humans from clay, join Esther’s cause. When the golems want to pray and give thanks to the creator, questions arise concerning what it means to be fully human. Gender, religious, and social identities are called into question throughout the story.
I enjoyed reading The Book of Esther, although I found the many themes and obscure histories overwhelming. All in all, I appreciated this story of a bold, courageous girl who questions her role — and roles forced on others — in Khazar society. Readers who enjoy magical realism and alternative history should give this book a read, as they will not be disappointed.
FTC disclosure: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.in character, Esther, is a courageous girl who, like the Esther of the Old Testament, makes a bold decision to fight for her people.